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At Lollapalooza this year, a fifth of the 170 performances scheduled had ASL interpreters.ASL-accessible sets are increasingly incorporated into larger festivals like Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza, where the factors of an established festival and strong local DHH community are in place.
But in 2015, thanks to a concerted push from DHH advocates and a growing cohort of employees plugged in to the DHH community, festival organizers have been prioritizing access for DHH fans.Born profoundly deaf (meaning her ears detect no sound at any level), Cryer likes to get as close as possible to the music’s source.She brings me to the front of the crowd and instructs me to put my foot on an aluminum stage barrier so I can feel the music’s vibration through the metal.Music festivals in particular have been slow to include the DHH community, despite the industry’s explosive growth over the past quarter century.In 2014 alone, 32 million people attended at least one US music festival, according to Nielsen Music.The Obama White House included two deaf women in prominent roles – Leah Katz-Hernandez, the first deaf person to serve as the receptionist of the United States (one of the first people to greet White House visitors), and Claudia Gordon, the public engagement adviser for the disability community in the Office of Public Engagement, who is also the first deaf black female attorney in the US.
Around the same time, Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman became the first deaf Super Bowl champion during Super Bowl 48; Coleman’s status as the NFL’s first deaf offensive player prompted a major halftime commercial by Duracell batteries (the tie-in being Coleman’s use of battery-powered hearing aids).
Cryer has spent years adapting to a culture that regularly ignores the fact that she and other fans like her exist.
But after enduring decades of limited access at shows, she’s hopeful that the mainstream perception of music fans in the DHH community has finally reached a watershed moment.
As a little girl, she would sit on her grandfather’s lap while he played the accordion in order to feel the air whoosh in and out of the bellows, and she recalls how the feeling of the music filling up her body made her “giddy with delight.” As an adult, she experimented with different hairstyles that would help intensify the way sound moved around her head.
(These days, she wears her dark waves cropped mid-neck.)By day, the 45-year-old music obsessive travels the Midwest as an advocate for deaf children.
She plucks an empty water bottle off the ground for me to hold so I can feel the bass in my fingertips.“Music is not about the sound for me; it’s about how I feel,” Cryer says.